My favorite kinds of puzzles are the types that strip away intricacies and overwhelming mechanics. The ones that instead give you powerful yet simple to understand ideas, can often trip you up far more. In the more complicated titles, it’s always easier to blame the complex sets of rules they’ve laid out than to blame your own intellect (or lack thereof).
Jonathan Blow’s 2016 The Witness is a prime example of something that gives players one very simple style of puzzle and that’s it. While new mechanics and hurdles are introduced to get through, these are largely the same result from puzzle to puzzle. Games like that require you to take a step back and look at what you have rather than actively trying to cheese your way through the problem.
She Remembered Caterpillars is a game that excels in its simplistic approach to puzzles as well in its storytelling and overall design. It does a tremendous job of establishing its own rules upfront, which in turn makes it easy to understand leaving little to no room for confusion…well, until it does. We’ll get to that.
Each chapter begin with little snippets of the overarching storyline delivered mostly in a dialogue format revolving around a girl and her father within a discussion of life, love and death. It’s a touching story that isn’t afraid to deal with some heavy themes while maintaining a sense of vague open-endedness that leaves ample room for analysis.
It takes a lot to move me when it comes to things that force you to delve into a story in such bite-sized ways but one specific line resonated with me: “You know what the problem with growing up is? Realizing that your parents were just humans.” Not sure why it hit me the way it did, but it did. And for that I’ll remember the story for being something more than just a wrapping on a puzzle game.
For as good and intriguing as the story is however, it doesn’t necessarily connect with what you’ll be doing in the game. There’s a degree of disconnect between narrative and gameplay, but neither monopolize each other and yet somehow manage to complement
In the first chapter you’re introduced to a few pillars, surrounded by alien floral and fungal growths that are detailed and beautiful but never a distraction since all your focus goes straight toward what matters: the boxy character and a bridge. It’s apparent these two are connected by their bright red color. Tap on the character, tap on the the bridge, and watch them walk across. Now, there’s only one spot to move past that, a white flower. Congrats, you’ve done it. Onto the next chapter! Oh…now there’s blue.
And that’s the hook from level to level but they introduce new colors, bridge types and obstacles. Once you’ve wrapped your head around that stuff, the game introduces the ability to merge colors together. Merging turns the Blues, Reds and Yellows into Purples, Greens and Oranges. That’s when you’re in real trouble and the speed at which you solve these riddles is slowed down to a pensive crawl.
Regardless of how long it takes you to figure out the level, the process is still rewarding. Even though I found myself staring blankly at many of the levels, once I finally made it through it was a nice release of all that brainpower that I always enjoy with games like this. Even if that means hopping right into another head scratcher.
The beautiful visuals are just as arresting as the storyline, utilizing a hand-drawn style that easily matches the personal story and simplistic mechanics. In a game that requires intensive thought, it’s nice to know that everything is pretty enough to look at while you’re mulling over the next move.
My only real complaint about the game is the controls. This being a Switch title, you’re given the ability to use the touchscreen or the Joy-Cons, but neither work quite as well as you’d like them to. The Joy-Cons felt unresponsive, often leaving me to tap the screen to get things done. While this usually did the trick, merging two pieces together requires dragging them on top of each other, but even this simple task only worked half the time. Instead, I found myself trying multiple attempts to merge them – which happened enough times to become annoying.
The story and the puzzles within She Remembered Caterpillars offer a ton of challenge, mentally and physically. Throughout its beautifully rendered levels lay one of the most intriguing mixtures of pure puzzle and narration in some time, and that alone makes it a must-play for genre fans. While there are some unfortunate issues with its control schemes, this is an expertly crafted puzzle game with enough challenge and – surprisingly – emotion to keep anyone using their brain glued to its colorful puzzles for a long time.